How to pick between races

You’re looking at the race calendar and you see two 5Ks you really want to run… but they’re on the same day! And there’s a 10K that sounds really interesting the next day! How do you decide which to run?

The Problem

I actually have this as a real scenario I am facing. I’m looking at two different 5Ks that sound fun, both on Saturday. And on Sunday there’s a 5 mile race that fits my training plan for the day so I could accomplish two goals with one race! But can I race that often? And which 5K to run?

Factors to Consider

Unfortunately there’s no one answer that fits everyone, and you’re never going to be entirely happy with whatever you decide. Walking away from an interesting race is always going to result in FOMO. But you can at least be satisfied with your decision just answering a couple questions.

The first question is an honest assessment of your fitness and your goals. Plenty of people run multiple races per day. 10K+5K is common, as well as other distances. But be honest if you’re thinking about doing both: is your fitness level high enough to handle this stress? And what is the extra stress going to do to your training plan?

The second question is distance. Two races on the same day likely aren’t in the same location. Is one closer to you? Closer to your family and friends to spectate? Easier to get to, park, get in/out?

Third question is terrain. Is one course hillier? More turns? Wide open with hot sun and no shade? Swampy with humidity and annoying insects?

And lastly, the question of vanity πŸ˜„ does one have better t-shirts? A better medal? More scenic views for better race pictures?

Fitness and Personal Goals

Especially if you’re deciding whether or not to run two races in the same day or racing back-to-back days, understand the stress this puts on your body. You’re likely running primarily easy miles in training, with one or two speed days per week. Back to back racing might be outside of your fitness level and may lead to injury. Likewise, if you’re nearing the end of a marathon training session, one 5K might fit into your schedule but you may need additional miles afterwards to keep your volume up. Maybe two 5Ks or 10Ks back to back can replace a speed day of similar length!

On the other hand if you’re trying to decide between two races where you can only do one, fitness and training likely isn’t the question. Personal goals are more important. You’ve decided you want a race on this day, but which one? Plenty of factors, both important and unimportant, can influence this, although it does take careful consideration of the differences between the races.

Differences Between Races

And ultimately, this is the meat of the question. What are the differences between these races? If you have the luxury of visiting the courses, this may help make the decision. Parking is a nightmare, there’s no public transit, the course is not clean or the road is in rough shape. Maybe one route has way more hills and turns. If you’re looking for a PR, you might choose a flatter and straighter course. Or if this race is more like a speed workout for you, you might pick the more difficult course to maximize your training.

Spectators are also a major factor for some runners. Having a race closer to friends and family makes them more likely to come out and support you! I live in Michigan, and while Hawaii is beautiful, I don’t think many of my friends or family would fly there to cheer me on during the Honolulu Marathon.

As mentioned, vanity is a perfectly fine reasoning! You’re still running the distance, you’re putting in the effort, you’re doing the race. So if this vs that comes down to the design, brand, or novelty of t-shirt, that’s okay! If it comes down to one race gives a medal and the other doesn’t (and you want a(nother) medal), then race the one with a finisher medal! Or maybe one is around a lake and the other is in an industrial park. If you want the best pictures for Instagram, the lake might be a better option.

Or maybe it’s about the cause. I ran a 5K on New Year’s Day to support the charity Still I Run. I have a charity race in March to support firefighters in my city. These are causes I like to support, and will often pick races with good causes if there is a conflict.

You’re the one running the race! The reasons for running that race are entirely up to you, there’s no better or worse option than the option you want.

Training Schedule

If you’re training for something bigger and this is not your goal race, you need to make sure this race will fit into your training plan. Substituting a 16 mile long run with a 5K race is not comparable. On my calendar, I’m looking at a 5K race on Saturday and a 5 mile race on Sunday. My Saturday plan calls for 4 easy miles, and Sunday calls for a 10K race. This will actually work out… as long as I don’t try to PR the 5K on Sunday. That’s always an option! I like the idea of this particular 5K because it’s close to my family. I can treat the 5K like another workout, hang out with my family, and be ready to race harder on Sunday, because I left some in reserve on Saturday. You don’t need to PR every race! Sometimes you can just enjoy the experience of being around other runners.

Tips for Making a Decision

Ultimately the decision comes down to what do you really want to do? Are you hunting for a PR, are you or your supporters able to travel, which has the better amenities, and which one just feels right?

And if you’re looking at two races on consecutive days, ask if it fits into your training plan. I totally plan on sandbagging the 5K on Saturday and nailing the 10K on Sunday. If it was a week or two earlier/later, it might not fit and I’d have to decide.

Really, trust your instincts. If you’re vibing with one over the other and all other factors are the same, then you have your answer.


There’s a 5K in my city that I ran in 2021. I want to run it again to compare times, but on the same day there’s a 5K in my old hometown and it would be nice to do a new race as well. But the race in my old hometown has awful parking and is a very popular race so it’ll be busy. As I’m training for a half marathon, I run 5Ks for peace and fun so the answer is clear, no matter how much I wish I could do both. The local race is more fun and more peaceful, and this isn’t a goal race for me so I don’t need to stress about it.

What’s really important to you and your goals? Which will support you as a runner more? Which will further your training instead of holding it back? These are the considerations you need to think about.

And if all else fails, flip a coin πŸ˜‰

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